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Essay/Term paper: Black negro essay

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In John Howard Griffin's novel Black Like Me, Griffin travels through
many Southern American states, including Mississippi. While in
Mississippi Griffin experiences racial tension to a degree that he did
not expect. It is in Mississippi that he encounters racial
stereotypical views directed towards him, which causes him to realize
the extent of the racial prejudices that exist. Mississippi is where he
is finally able to understand the fellowship shared by many of the
Negroes of the 50's, because of their shared experiences. Although
Griffin travels throughout the Southern States, the state of
Mississippi serves as a catalyst for the realization of what it is
truly like to be a Negro in 1959. Once in the state of Mississippi,
Griffin witnesses extreme racial tension, that he does not fully
expect. It is on the bus ride into Mississippi that Griffin first
experiences true racial cruelty from a resident of Mississippi.
It was late dusk when the bus pulled into some little
outside of Hatteisburg for a stop. "We get about ten minutes here,"
Bill said "let's get off here and stretch our legs" The driver stood up
and announced "Ten minute rest stop,". The whites rose and ambled off.
Bill and I led the Negroes toward the door. As soon as he saw us, the
driver blocked our way. Bill slipped under his arm and walked away.
"Hey boy where are you going?" the driver shouted at Bill while he
stretched his arms across the opening to prevent myself from stepping
down. I stood waiting. "Where do you think your going?" he asked, his
heavy cheeks quivering with each word. "I'd like to go to the rest
room." I smiled and moved to step down. He tightened his grip on the
door. "Does your ticket say for you to get off here?" he asked. "No
sir, but the others..." "Then you just sit your ass down." We turned
like a small herd of cattle and drifted back to our seats. The large
woman was apologetic, as though it embarrassed her for a stranger to
see Mississippi's dirty linen.1(pg 63) Up to this point in the novel
Griffin experiences exactly what he expects to experience. He is
taunted with typical racial slurs, and other forms of hostility, which
he is able to brush off as meaningless ignorance. This bus driver is
denying the black customers the most basic of human needs. The bus
driver attempts to not only humiliate them by forcing them to defecate
and urinate in public on the bus, but the bus driver is also attempting
to show all of the white customers what savages that the blacks are.
Griffin never expects to receive anger and hate to this degree.
Everywhere that he goes in Mississippi is full of hatred, and spite.
As I walked down Mobile Street, a car full of white men
boys sped past. They yelled obscenities at me. A satsuma flew past my
head and broke against a building. The street was loud and raw, with
tension as thick as fog. I felt the insane terror of it. When I
entered the store of my second contact, we talked in low voices.
Another car roared down the street, and the street was suddenly
deserted of Negroes, but then we appeared shortly.2(Page 67) For the
first time while in Mississippi Griffin realizes that there are many
individuals, who, if given the chance, would kill him simply because he
is black. It is in Mississippi that he begins to identify with the
blacks and begins to fully see himself as a black. Had he stayed in the
more Northern states he probably would never have progressed to this
state of mind. Griffin begins to understand that part of the reason for
the hatred of blacks by many whites is because of the stereotypical
image of the Negro in the 50's.
In Mississippi he confronts racial stereotypes directed towards
him that prompt him to realize how deeply rooted society's
prejudices are. While trying to hitchhike through Mississippi
he encounters white men willing to pick him up only because of
their preconceived notions of Negroes.
I must have had a dozen rides that evening. They blear
a nightmare, the one scarcely distinguishable from the other. It
quickly became obvious why they picked me up. All but two picked me up
the way they would pick up a pornographic photograph or book-except
that this was verbal pornography. With a Negro, they assumed they need
give no semblance of self respect or respectability. The visual element
entered into it. All of the men showed morbid curiosity about the
sexual life of the Negro, and all had, at base, the same stereotyped
image of the Negro as an inexhaustible sex-machine with over-sized
genitals and vast store of experiences, immensely varied. They appeared
to think that the Negro has done all of those "special" things they
themselves have never dared to do.3(pg.85) Griffin finds that
hitchhiking at night through Mississippi is the best way to experience
the underlying stereotypes found throughout Mississippi. A man will
open up at night because it gives him an illusion of anonymity. Griffin
can't conceive of how these men can have such distorted concepts of
another human being. It becomes obvious that the reason these men have
such little respect for the Negroes is because they have absolutely no
understanding of them. Griffin realizes that before his travels as a
Negro in Mississippi he too knew very little about them. The Negroes
cope with this hate based upon ignorance by relying on each other.
Griffin is able to conceive the strong bond between many
Negroes, because of experiences that some Negroes share, while
he is in Mississippi. While on the bus heading for Mississippi
he notices how black strangers become instant friends
As we drove more deeply into Mississippi, I noted that
Negro comforted and sought comfort from his own. In Mississippi
everyone who boarded the bus at the various little towns had a smile
and a greeting for everyone else. We felt strongly the need to
establish friendship as a buffer against the invisible threat. Like
shipwrecked people, we huddled together in a warmth and courtesy that
was pure and pathetic.4(pg.63) Griffin speaks of his experience on the
bus as though it is a battle zone because that is exactly what it is.
The blacks realize that the key to surviving is unity and finding
something positive in their situation. They each try to provide the
others with something to be happy about and something to be grateful

for. The blacks try to counter the hate and hostility that they
encounter with warmth and kindness toward one another. Griffin can not
understand this bond until he is in a situation where he is looking for
kindness as much as the Negroes around him. Mississippi is where
Griffin learns to not only act as a black, but also feel their pain as
only a black can do.
Griffin travels throughout the Southern States but his
experience as a black in Mississippi serves as an awakening for
him to the understanding of what being a black man in 1959
entails. While in Mississippi he witnesses extreme racial
tension, which he had no idea existed until his visit to
Mississippi. It is in Mississippi that he is the victim of
racial stereotypes causing him to realize the extent of the
racial prejudices towards Negroes. Griffin is finally able to
understand the bond shared between many of the Negroes of the
time, while traveling through Mississippi. Until the novel
Black Like Me, the state of Mississippi adamantly denied that
it had any racial problems, after the novel was released
Mississippi and the world had to come to the realization that
their were serious problems in the way that blacks were being
treated. This novel is just as horrific to readers in the 90's
as it was in the 50's, but while the 90's audience is convinced
that they have escaped the problem of racism, this

Bibliography Griffin, John Howard. Black Like Me. Sepia Publishing
Company. New York. 1960. *All subsequent entries are from this

Endnotes 1. John Howard Griffin. Black Like Me. Sepia Publishing
Company. New York. 1960. *All subsequent entries are from this


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